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Addressing Vulnerability With Your Employees: How to Motivate Your Team to be Productive & Happy During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Posted by Insightlink on 04/12/21

I worked from home long before the pandemic hit. Though my reasons for doing so have gone from a thing of convenience to a thing of necessity, my pre-COVID work ethic and productivity haven’t changed all that much since the initial shutdowns last March. Not only am I a freelance writer, but I also write on behalf of a busy bankruptcy attorney in Philadelphia. Before the pandemic, that was an in-person arrangement. I would go into the office every other workday, and I’d work from home on my freelance projects on the off days.

I had the advantage of knowing how to set up a workspace from home, keep motivated, and separate my work time from play time. When you are back and forth between two different functioning work environments the way I was, you know how to take your “office” with you wherever you go.
vulnerability pandemic stress

Photo by Ángel López on Unsplash
I already had the necessary skills in place to shift toward a brave new remote world. When the law office had to shut down, all my co-workers - who were office regulars for life - suddenly had their wires crossed. They were at home but in office mode, or they were in home mode at a makeshift office. This change, plus the uncertainty and instability that a global pandemic creates, caused productivity to take a nosedive, as our team faced the new reality that showed up with the Spring of 2020.
After many zoom calls, phone calls, and - eventually - some outdoor meetups. My co-workers and I were able to help each other adjust to the new work, eat, play, sleep, parent, date, or be a single all-in-one-place-and-in-the-same-pants-since-Wednesday lifestyle (It's only a Thursday as I write this).
Humbly, some of the things they had to say helped me through the harder parts of isolation. Some of the mistakes we’ve made have also helped us grow as a team and build collective insight. We learned together that openly and honestly discussing our vulnerabilities was key to building a strong interpersonal support system. Having a strong interpersonal support system strengthens one’s intrapersonal support system - which is where our feelings of vulnerability ebb and flow.
We had each other's backs. When one was down, we all rushed in to help keep our team productive. We also addressed some critical inequalities in the workplace that have never been addressed before. Because of these honest and open discussions, our team is now stronger than we were before the COVID-19 pandemic. Hopefully, the following insights we learned can help your team stay motivated and positive.
We Are All More Vulnerable Right Now
In psychology, vulnerability describes someone’s resistance to perceived threats of harm. People become more vulnerable as uncertainties in their personal life become more realized. The more vulnerable a person feels, the more irrational and unstable their behavior may become. An otherwise stable adult who loses a loved one or has their car stolen will usually be less resistant to perceived threats of harm from the uncertainties they experience in life.
People’s vulnerability ebbs and flows due to the circumstances that occur in day-to-day life. Groups of people can also experience changes in feelings of vulnerability. When our entire society falls prey to a global pandemic, when businesses are shuttered and lockdowns are mandated, everybody, no matter how functional or stable they may be under normal circumstances, becomes more vulnerable.
What Can We Do About It?
It can be hard to “pretend things are normal” when life has so radically and unexpectedly changed. Any successful HR team will be well aware of the concept of vulnerability and how it impacts their team. From my experiences in the office, honesty, empathy, and willingness to compromise can help to support our team members who are feeling especially vulnerable.
Offer Regular Meetings to Gauge Morale and Mental Health
It is paramount to your team’s success to monitor the mental health of its members. Group meetings, smaller POD meetings, and one-on-ones are all useful for checking in with members. If you don’t already have a robust mental health policy at your workplace, consider implementing it ASAP.
Encourage Employees to be Honest about Their Fears and Anxieties
I have been in many work environments where I was told to “be honest,” but due to the work culture, I still felt compelled to sugarcoat or straight-up twist the truth to satisfy my managers. There needs to be a level of sincerity coming from HR’s attempts to reach out to employees.
Unfortunately, disingenuous and rather insulting “fake” positive messages are all too common. This becomes truer the larger the company is. Understandably, it's difficult to manage tens of thousands of people the way Amazon does, but for our law firm - a bona fide small business, we try to be as authentic as possible. Healthy and mature confrontation is much more productive than porcelain smiles hiding gnashing teeth.
Frame the Workplace Response to the Pandemic as a Time to Come Together
Fostering a supportive work culture can help strengthen the connections between team members. By framing the pandemic as a problem affecting everyone (and everyone differently), your team can address sudden changes in productivity and morale with a respectful sensitivity towards the needs of individual team members while still stressing the importance of the common goals.
We are seeing a wartime effort to combat the spread of COVID-19. This is another useful framing device. Our society is in a race against the spread and mutation of the virus. For a team to be successful, they need to unite under a common cause.
For governments, that cause is mitigating the damage, handling the logistics of vaccinations, and enforcing policy to stop the spread. For your team, the goal might look like coming together for the survival of the company and the security of everyone's jobs.
Acknowledge That the COVID-19 Pandemic is Affecting People of Color, LGBT Employees, and Women Differently
Emergencies often drive societies towards traditional and conservative responses. Women have left the workplace in alarming numbers in 2020 in response to the pandemic. Hate crimes against people of Asain descent, as well as other minority groups, are on the rise. Here in the US, State governments are eroding the rights of transgender people. What is your HR department doing to address these alarming trends? Are you aware of how these trends are affecting your employees?
The Take-Away
Show support for your team during these difficult times. With so many uncertainties surrounding the future, addressing the uniqueness of each employee’s vulnerability will help ease some of the stresses that are making us way more vulnerable. By having these sometimes painful conversations, we have become a stronger and more productive team.
Thanks for reading! I hope this article helps your team grow stronger too! 
About the Author
Veronica Baxter is a writer, blogger, and legal assistant operating out of the greater Philadelphia area.


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